Author Archives: Laura

About Laura

I am a confirmed chocoholic.

Paper Flowers and Trash

Talitha Pam
Adjunct faculty, Lifelong Learning

A few years ago, I was working for a nature conservation nonprofit in Nigeria. We worked with communities on practical conservation and environmental education. I enjoyed my job because I spent my days teaching and learning.

Despite my contentment, I often wondered if we were making impact. The region had recently become a hot spot for illegal lumbering, and the evidence of their illicit activities was obvious. With all our work, would change ever come?

Growing up in Nigeria, the deplorable state of the public education system was not a new thing to me but this was really bad. As I walked to the class where I would teach, my heart sank despite the smile plastered on my face. The kids sat on the ground; there was no floor, nor desk, the roof leaked and not one of the kids had a sheet of paper or even a pencil.

“Welcome Aunty,” the kids shouted in unison. I smiled and returned their greetings.

While I set up I noticed two little girls ripping paper into long strips. I walked toward them and asked them what they were doing. “Making flowers,” they replied with happy smiles on their faces. I looked closely at the paper and realized that it was regular notepaper that was dirty and had writing on it. Probably something they picked up from outside. Where was the colorful construction paper? Where were the paint and glitter?

“Teacher said we will be talking about pollination and bees today,” one of the girls said. “That is why we are making flowers.”

As she spoke she manipulated the paper into loops and stuck a small crooked twig through it and handed it to me. A flower. It was perfect. Excited I stuck it into my hair and gave them both a hug.

My heart sang for joy because I realized that even in their less than desirable situation the kids were learning. They were creating. They were collaborating. They knew what the lesson was about and they had produced for me their interpretation of it.

YES! Change will come, it has come!

At LCC we do not just teach theory but develop practical and transferable life skills. Our community reminds us that no situation is permanent. Change will come. Sometimes all we need is space to create something beautiful.

I often find myself reflecting on the episode and I always ask myself, how can I get my students to make flowers out of trash?

Photo taken by me

Charley

Lisa Whiting Dobson
Digital Media, Audio & Cinema

In over twenty years of teaching, it is hard to choose just one student as my inspiration. There have been so many. In my classes, I have worked with very young students who are dual enrolled in high school; honors students looking for a challenging educational environment; older students who are looking for a retirement occupation or hobby; and mid-career students who are looking for a fresh start. There are students who have overcome incredible health obstacles such as congenital challenges, recovery from accidents, illnesses, and addictions; and those that are managing current chronic conditions such as severe diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, sickle cell anemia, cancer, severe anxiety, and depression. I have taught students with all of these challenges and more at Lansing Community College, and have been allowed to teach with compassion so that if a student has a flare up, regression, or challenge, I can continue to shape my class to work for them. Then there are students who are recovering from abusive childhoods, bitter divorces, incarceration, sexual assault, or the death of a parent, child, or other loved one. Every one of these students holds a place in my memory and my heart.

There is one student in particular that I remember. Charley was a student who was born with physical challenges and was mobile with a walker. He shared with me that he had been bullied through school, and felt like an outcast. Charley had developed a forceful personality. In class discussions, he often took the most unpopular view of whatever issue we were discussing. The field he was studying was not one that he would be able to pursue easily, but that did not stop him. Charley loved firefighters, and spent time hanging out with them in the station. He often called me Chief, and would come into class early or stay late to talk a bit. I admired Charley for his strength. I understood that his whole life had been a battle of sorts, and he behaved as if he was going to have to battle everywhere. I was glad that with me, he didn’t feel he had to. One day after Charley had taken my classes and graduated, I read in the paper that Charley had died. I wrote a letter to his family to share the beauty I saw in Charley and to send my condolences. I received a letter back from Charley’s mother. It seems that an illness that others may have been able to kick was too much for Charley’s fragile immune system. His mother shared that Charley talked about me, loved my classes, and she was so thankful for my belief in and support of her son. I grieved for Charley, and his family. It meant a lot to me that my class was a good experience for Charley in a sea of struggles. I decided a long time ago that is who I wanted to be as an educator. I always remember that the students sitting in front of me are people with talents and beauty, that is it my honor to recognize and develop. I need to assess each student objectively so I can be a help to them, but also look deeper to see what might not be apparent at first glance. It is my job to educate, encourage, and inspire students.

The point is that teaching at a community college allows me to meet students where they are, share in their healing, share in their dreams, and most of all, create a community of learning, compassion, and care that sees the value in each person and allows them to start here and end up better for interacting with us.

How a 17-year-old Made Me a Better Teacher

Tracy Nothnagel
Legal Assistant

In my first few years of teaching, I had the attitude that I didn’t care if students showed up to my classes or not. It was my belief that they were in college and if they didn’t want to come to class then that was up to them. If a student stopped coming to class, I just went on as usual and didn’t care to find out why. That all changed when I met Rachael. Rachael was 17 years old and in my Introduction to Paralegal Studies class. Now you see, this was rare as I was teaching at a University and I had never had a student so young in my class. Most students didn’t get to my classes until they completed their two years of general education courses.

Early in the semester I noticed there was something special about Rachael. After reading the first paper she wrote in my class, I was knocked off my feet. She was 17 and a brilliant writer. She was the best writer I had seen in my five years of teaching. All I kept saying was, “Wow, she is 17.” Through this assignment I learned that Rachael aspired to be a lawyer and I thought, she is going to be a great lawyer and really excel in law school.

About one month into the semester, Rachael stopped coming to class. She would show up on quiz days and always get the highest grade, most of the time it was 100%. I kept wondering why she didn’t show up. I thought, is it me, does she just not need me to learn this material? However, I did nothing. Midterm week came and she showed up for class and aced the exam. I don’t know why I did what I did after that, but I am glad I did. I reached out to Rachael by email. I asked her why she hadn’t been coming to class. I told her how brilliant I thought she was. I explained that in future classes it will be necessary to show up. What happened next surprised and changed me forever.

Rachael emailed me back and said she was struggling in her personal life. She said her parents just found out she was a lesbian and they did not accept that. In her culture, this is not accepted and is actually looked down on. She was living with her girlfriend’s family and was missing home. She wanted her family to accept her and she didn’t know how to live without that acceptance. Over the remainder of that semester, Rachael and I built a relationship. I looked at her as my little sister or a niece. We talked about her goals, she cried in my office and I just tried to be there for her as much as I could. Rachael finished the semester and I didn’t see her for a few years as she finished her general education credits. When I saw her two years later in my legal writing course, she told me that what I did changed her life and that my email and mentoring pushed her to continue with her studies and show up for class. By this time, her parents had accepted her life choice and they embraced her girlfriend and her family life was great.

Over the years, I have kept in touch with Rachael. I saw her graduate from college, law school, marry her high school sweetheart, and become a mother and very successful lawyer. I am forever grateful for that day I sent that email. When Rachael told me what difference I made, I cried. When she graduated law school, we met for drinks and I told her she changed my life too. I told her she made me a better a teacher from that day forward. I now reach out to students who stop showing up and I am often surprised by their responses. I am a better teacher because of what I learned from a 17-year-old college student.

But Wait, There’s More

Thomas Keyes
Welding Technology

There is very little that brings me the feeling of a job well done more than seeing one of my students leave their booths with a confident stride and a smile on their face, eager to show me the weld that they had just produced. For these moments, I choose to share my knowledge, my experience, my enthusiasm for the craft, to teach.

I have taught and trained welding to many on the job for quite a few years. In 2017, I came to LCC to do so in an academic environment. The institution’s requirements were stringent and required that I invest in the American Welding Society as a Certified Welding Inspector. This required me to commit to an online course, a one week seminar, and a six hour long examination. I passed the exam and received my certification. I educated myself to be the best candidate possible and was successful.

The first semester that I taught, I was paired with a highly respected colleague as a “shadow”. I thought this an excellent opportunity for me to learn how to teach in this environment. I learned the software used, safety procedures, equipment repair requests, practical and classroom testing. I am a highly accomplished craftsman and have many years of experience teaching “on the job”. This most certainly was not the same. I am grateful to have had the opportunity and learned an incredible amount in a relatively short period of time from an excellent instructor.

I have never worked in a place so devoted to diversity and inclusiveness as it is embraced and encouraged here at LCC. I will be challenged by the students and faculty here to be the best instructor that I can be. I am encouraged to obtain more certifications and utilize the resources available to me through the Center for Teaching Excellence. I received my AWS certification as an educator. I obtained my level II visual inspection certification from the American Society of Nondestructive Testing. I’ve taken advantage of courses to learn our instruction software and, presently, the course, “Transforming Learning Through Teaching”. I am incredibly engaged with learning here. I am dedicated to being an effective and successful teacher. The joy it brings me to see a student feel a sense of pride in their work is what makes me want to learn, to always be a student. There’s always more…

Mentorship in Teaching

Jon Ten Brink
Music

Some students just stick with you. We only worked together for a year, but I will never forget J. He was trying to finish his collegiate career; his third attempt at finishing his senior year after twice giving up mid semester. J was plagued by a myriad of barriers. He struggled with mental health issues and was regularly overwhelmed. His enthusiasm for the subject was palpable in person, but he struggled to focus his attention on completing the necessary work. I knew this was his last chance, but how do you help a student who will not do what needs to be done?

We started with the clearest of directives. We broke down what needed to be done in a series of goals for the semester, the month, the week, and the day. We soon discovered he still needed more specificity and we made a daily schedule broken down by the hour and, at times, to the minute. He set alarms on his watch. We built in reminders and secondary deadlines. This helped. Everything was moving smoothly, relatively speaking, until the draft of his recital notes was due. The day before this massive undertaking needed to be reviewed by a panel of music professors, he had written barely a word. This was a milestone marker—failure to produce the document would stall his chances to graduate.

I sat J in my office, at my computer at 10 AM that morning and told him he would not leave until it was completed. Between giving lessons I checked on his progress and helped edit and guide his process. Nearly 12 hours later, still in my office sitting at my computer, he completed the document, which passed the prescreening the next day. He graduated later that year.

J taught me a valuable lesson on what it takes to be a teacher. It would be easy to write off his struggles; to see a student who would not follow through and let him fail. Finding a way to help him achieve his goal took time, it took energy, and it took creativity. If my role is merely to give information, point the way, and get out of the way, letting students pass or fail solely on their merits brought into the classroom, how many students would get left behind, and what am I really teaching? However, if my role is to help students achieve their goals, I need to do more. Teaching isn’t presenting information. It is mentorship. It is exhausting. And it is so worth it to see your students succeed.

Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

Gregory Butts
Assistant Professor, Technical Careers

When I reflect on my first impression of Cody, I become aware that I did, indeed, make assumptions about him based on his appearance. I thought I knew his background, family situation, and economic circumstances because of what I believed to be true simply because of his looks.

Tall, thin, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, wearing the nicest pair of leather work boots in the class, I thought Cody had the world by the tail. “That kid is popular, has the support of his family, and has had an easy time all through school,” is what I told myself. Little did I know then that Cody had practically raised himself, taken care of an alcoholic parent, and spent the summer picking up pop cans by the side of the road in a rural Michigan farming community in order to pay for his boots.

First impressions can be deceiving. I soon learned that not only did I need to teach Cody Precision Machining bench-work, the functions of both manual and computerized lathes, and the basics of CNC programming, I needed to teach him how to communicate in writing with co-workers on the factory floor, present himself to employers, function as a member of a team in job settings, and believe in his own ability to be successful.

Over the course of the semester I learned a lot about Cody, and Cody taught me a great deal. When Cody presented himself at West Campus, and said he was interested in the Professional Skilled Trades, he knew that those very Trades were the conduit for changing his life. My job was to take the interest and determination that Cody had, and channel it into skills for learning in the classroom, and working in the world.

Cody and I still stay in touch. He works for a local manufacturing company that now pays Cody’s tuition to keep learning. He is in the 2nd year of a 4 year apprenticeship program, and receives pay raises every 6 months. Not only is Cody building a life of self-sufficiency based on meaningful work, but he has influenced other entry-level workers at his company to come back to school. His outstanding performance on the job has led to a strong relationship between the company he works for and our Precision Machining Program at LCC West.

Cody epitomizes the goals and purpose of institutions like Lansing Community College.